Instructions cancelling a funding commitment to Briarpatch, by Ministerial decision

One of my challenges this past week was to distill over 300 pages of research into a single poster. Cuts to CBC have been singular and highly visible, raising public concern. But during roughly the same period, what amounted to a massive drop in support to hundreds of small magazines and community and Indigenous broadcasters went largely unnoticed.

By tracking media assistance across different federal departments and programs, I found a stark picture emerged, including:

  • 89.2% drop in magazine titles receiving distribution assistance since 1990 (from 8,000 to 804).
  • A 87.3% drop in magazine titles receiving operating and project assistance since 2000 (from 418 to 53 publications, in dollars from $25.3 million to $1.4 million disbursed).
  • 74.2% loss of distinct community access channels since 1987.
  • 44.4% decrease in Northern Aboriginal Broadcasting funds since 1987.
  • 100% cut to the Native Communications Program.

Added to this was the whiff of increased political control over content in recent years, with added inducements to line up editorial content with the glorification of Canadian history, and the Heritage minister personally over-ruling internal funding recommendations.

Although a stated purpose of federal media assistance is to protect media diversity in Canada, a number of alternative voices lost their funding between 2009 and 2011 – including power-critiquing magazines like Briarpatch, Canadian Dimension and Our Times – while the funding balance shifted markedly toward conglomerate-owned presses, intensifying media monopolization.

The federal Periodical Fund was created to help support Canadian magazines after they lost their mailing discount in a GATT challenge sponsored by the U.S.

Oh dear! The federal Periodical Fund was created to help Canadian newspapers and magazines compete with the U.S., after Canadian publishers lost their postal discount in a 1997 WTO ruling.

The upshot: a whole sector of small, voluntary, non-profit and co-operative media is in peril these days, and not many people are aware of the situation – even among the sector’s civil society allies.

Come talk to me about media at the SFL convention.

Working people have a stake in media development. Come talk to me at the SFL convention – I’d love to hear your views.

An increasing burden of local investigative journalism is falling to these media projects Рbut without a corresponding level of public support. While some of the cut-off magazines have managed to find ways to meet new funding requirements, the pool of  potential assistance is down to almost nothing.

In their favour, ‘third sector’ media is highly resilient because of its organizational diversity and adaptability to new things like the Internet. While commercial media has but one model – ad sales – third sector media has many co-operative and non-profit models to draw on, as well as an ability to leverage reader support in ways the private sector can’t (I mean, really, would ¬†you chip into an Indiegogo campaign to support a media baron?)

So, a long story with many angles but here it is, as promised, in a poster:

Click here for the research poster

I’ll be up in Saskatoon with my poster this weekend, happy to answer questions and hear your views.